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BRUNO S., STREET MUSICIAN TURNED LEAD ACTOR IN HERZOG CLASSICS, DIES AT 78
By DOUGLAS MARTIN | NEW YORK TIMES | August 14, 2010
He wrote songs and sang them on the streets of Berlin. One told of a poor boy who grows up wishing for a little horse. The horse arrives years later pulling his mother’s hearse.
The man who sang it in a croaky voice, accompanying himself on the accordion and glockenspiel, was known as Bruno S. He was a street musician, a painter of pictures, a forklift operator in a steel mill and, at one time, a mental patient. But, perhaps most remarkably, he was the lead actor in a movie that won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1975.
His full name, which he seldom used, was Bruno Schleinstein. He died Wednesday at the age of 78 in Berlin, according to the German Press Agency, quoting his friend the artist Klaus Theuerkauf.
Werner Herzog, one of the innovators of postwar German cinema, twice in the 1970s cast Bruno to play pretty much himself a damaged but somehow transcendent character.
The first of those films, the one that won at Cannes, was “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser” (1974), based on a true story. In the film the character played by Bruno appears in a square in 19th-century Nuremburg. He cannot speak and can barely stand, having apparently been kept in a kind of dungeon. The only clue to his identity is a paper giving his name as Kaspar and asking that he be taken into service as a soldier.
Kaspar is taught to speak and to read and write, and then, in a fashion as mysterious as his appearance, he is murdered.
Bruno’s acting moved Richard Eder of The New York Times to write: “Kaspar’s extraordinary face, his eyes strained wide to see better, his whole posture suggesting a man trying to swallow, trying to grasp a world of strangeness, is the film’s central image.”
As he learns to speak, Kaspar finds much of society repulsive. “Every man is a wolf to me,” he says. He has no ego: “Nothing lives less in me than my life.”
“The story of Kaspar is more fascinating than the story of Jesus Christ,” Anaïs Nin was quoted as saying in an advertisement for the film.
Bruno Schleinstein was born on June 2, 1932, most likely in Berlin. Some accounts say his mother, a prostitute, had beaten him so badly when he was 3 that he became temporarily deaf. This led to his placement in a mental hospital, where he was the subject of Nazi experiments on mentally disabled children.
Nobody visited him, not even relatives he knew. He spent 23 years in institutions, including jails and homeless shelters. When on his own, he broke into cars for a warm place to sleep.
As an adult he held various jobs, including forklift driver, and began to sing in courtyards around Berlin in the oral tradition that inspired Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera.”
He didn’t sing songs, Bruno said; he transmitted them. One song, “Thoughts Are Free,” concerned the impossibility of finding refuge even in one’s thoughts.
Mr. Herzog first glimpsed Bruno in a 1970 documentary about street musicians.
“I instantly knew he could be the leading character in ‘Kaspar Hauser,’ ” Mr. Herzog said in an interview with NPR in 2006. Bruno did not want his name known, and so Mr. Herzog began calling him “the unknown soldier of cinema.” During filming, Mr. Herzog said, Bruno would have moments of “utter despair” and start talking, sometimes screaming, in the middle of a shot and continue in that way for two hours.
Bruno’s second film, “Stroszek” (1977), was based on his life; Mr. Herzog had written the script expressly for him. Some scenes were shot in Bruno’s own apartment. In the film, Bruno, a prostitute he befriends and his aging landlord move to the mythical Railroad Flats, Wis., where they live in a trailer.
In the film, Bruno, who refers to himself in the third person, has sharp comments about America. “Bruno is still being pushed around,” he says, “not physically but spiritually; here they hurt you with a smile.”
Bruno said in interviews that he had never wanted to be a movie star, and in time the benefits of fame faded, other than the occasional free haircut by a friendly barber.
“Everybody threw him away,” Bruno said of himself.
He continued to carve out a life with his music and artwork, some of which was compelling enough to be exhibited at shows of so-called outsider art, including one in New York. When playing for street audiences, he never asked for money. Sometimes a friend would pass a hat for him. He drew a small pension. He apparently had no survivors.
In 2002, the German filmmaker Miron Zownir made a documentary called “Bruno S. Estrangement Is Death.” In it, Bruno seems to answer the many who worried that he had been exploited by Mr. Herzog.
“I have my pride, and I can think,” he said, “and my thinking is clever.”
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RIP, BRUNO SCHLEINSTEIN (Bruno S.)
published in: The Thought Experiment on August 12th, 2010
R.I.P. to Bruno S., aka Bruno Schleinstein. June 2, 1932 August 11, 2010. May you never descend to a ►loch der vergessenheit.
Mr. S. was most famously featured in the Werner Herzog film Stroszek (1977), which was written expressly for him after his turn as the titular character in Herzog’s The Enigma of Kasper Hauser (1974). Herzog insisted on Schleinstein for both roles despite his total lack of acting experience. The character of Bruno Stroszek was broadly based on the real-life Bruno Schleinstein, insomuchas he was able to convey himself to Mr. Herzog, though Herzog reports he was suspicious and uncomfortable beneath the focus of the director’s attention.
An unbelievably accomplished accordion player with a love of classic performance, Mr. Schleinstein was an abused child who spent much of his young life in mental institutions. When Herzog knew him, he was an weekend accordion player and forklift driver at a car manufacturers’. Mr. S. had recently quit smoking and drinking for health reasons.
“Do you know who that is?” my friend Ingrid had asked me when she came by my family’s apartment one day late last spring. An old musician was seated before a rickety cardboard box below the window. He sang in a croaking voice on the empty sidewalk in the afternoon sunshine, his back toward the brick church across the street.
“That’s Bruno S.,” Ingrid said excitedly. She looked as if she had come across Marlene Dietrich, returned from the dead.
(“From Berlin’s Hole of Forgottenness, a Spell of Songs.” Kimmelmann, Michael. The New York Times. December 24, 2008.)
Recently, with Christmas coming, we dropped in to ask how he was doing. This is not a good season for people who are alone. He said he hated the Christmas markets around town, where “the gentlemen who go in come out like plucked chickens with all their feathers flying, and such beautiful colored feathers.” That’s how Bruno tends to talk. He makes up words and phrases or borrows them from old songs and gives them a twist. Liederbann: a spell of songs. Das Loch der vergessenheit: the hole of forgottenness. He says he transmits (durchgeben) his songs, he doesn’t sing them.
When the conversation turns to Mr. Herzog or to his mother or brother and sister, words tend to fail him, and he becomes distraught. Otherwise he’s mischievous, puckish, remote but always glad for the company.
Schleinstein says he transmits (German: durchgeben) his songs, he doesn’t sing them.
What a lovely and expressive thought in terms of art and our relationship with the universe. When I write my nonfiction work, I like to describe the process as an archaelogist brushing and digging gently away at a vast skeleton, a fossil buried in the earth which only resembles sense as it takes shape. Once, I read in a philosophy book that a particular german philosopher’s translation of “this is the chair” was better expressed as “The chair gives itself to us.” Is this so and can anyone recall which philosopher? Because that blew my mind.
R.I.P. again to a true individual. Many happy returns to this earth, Mr. S.
Special thanks to @SashaGrey for bringing Bruno Schleinstein’s death today to my attention, ahead of news and wiki alerts. She’d heard it from Chris Campion. Please do give her a follow on the twitter: like the Transformers and all truly good things in life, there is more to the admirable, lovely and talented Ms. Grey than meets the eye.
edit: This was my original source for this entry. I came online this morning expecting to find more official notices, obits, etc, and none have turned up yet, so if it turns out to be a case of mistaken identity and Mr. S has not yet shuffled off the mortal coil, I will be the first to toast the fact that he’s still with us. Now I’m really looking forward to the chance he’s not yet passed. I’ll keep searching periodically and keep you posted.
edit, 8-12-10, around 5 pm PDT: Fuck, dudes. It looks like Bruno Schleinstein definitely is dead. The German Press Agency is reporting that he died of heart failure. Sorry for the king-sized cuss but I’d got my hopes up earlier today that it was one of those “rumors of my blah have been greatly blah” situations. R.I.P. to Mr. S. again. God bless him and everyone who is always themself no matter what.
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6 Responses to “RIP, Bruno Schleinstein (Bruno S.)”
Colin Caret Says: | August 11, 2010 at 5:05 pm | I have a hunch the philosopher you have in mind is Martin Heidegger. I am no expert in German philosophy, but Heidegger famously discusses the distinction between objects which are “ready-to-hand” and “present-at-hand”. I won’t try to pretend like I understand this distinction, but I think it might be the source of the quote or paraphrase you have in mind.
E. Says: | August 11, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Colin, I am almost certain you are right. The whole “Dasein” thing is feeling right. Thank you!
Cities of the Mind Says: | August 11, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Totally cool. It’s a rare person who is an individual. I know how that sounds, but I said what I said, and I meant what it meant.
Luke Says: | August 12, 2010 at 10:30 am | Very nice entry. Yesterday I finished the chapters on Bruno in HERZOG ON HERZOG and this is saddening news. Something timeless about Bruno I cannot quite express.
Anyway, as to the quote: I’m not sure if the exact quote is attributed to any particular philosopher (though it could certainly be Heidegger), but it springs from the discourse started by Husserl and Sartre and was capped off by Heidegger’s Dasein. My feeling here is that some academic along the way made the claim that a “chair gives itself to us” based on the agitations innate to existential phenomenology.
Thanks for posting
Beth Arzy Says: | August 13, 2010 at 3:53 am | My friend Hannah and I had the rare pleasure to find Bruno one Friday night at Stadtklause in Berlin two months ago. I’d wanted to meet him for the longest time and the evening was most magical. He will be in my heart forever. A truely special, beautiful individual.---Beth
bruno s. is dead | chained and perfumed Says: | August 13, 2010 at 9:01 pm | [...] S., star of Every Man For Himself and God Against Them All has apparently [...]
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BRUNO SCHLEINSTEIN OBITUARY | Actor and musician known as Bruno S, chosen by Werner Herzog to play social misfits in his films
By RONALD BERGAN
►Werner Herzog is a singular film director, drawn to bizarre characters and situations in strange surroundings, with a preoccupation with outsiders who refuse to conform to a limited social structure. So it was not surprising that he was drawn to Bruno Schleinstein, known and credited only as Bruno S, who has died of heart failure aged 78. Even if one had no idea of Bruno's history, one could not fail to sense that there was something extra-artistic in his performances in the title roles of the two films he made with Herzog: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Jeder für Sich und Gott Gegen Alle, 1974) and Stroszek (1977). With his jerky gestures, staccato speech and staring eyes, there seemed to be a thin line between the actor and the characters.
Bruno S, who never knew who his father was, was born in Berlin to a prostitute. At three years old, he was sent to an institution for children with learning difficulties. Thereafter, with almost no education, he spent the next 23 years in various institutions and prisons, and for some time was thought to have suffered from schizophrenia. In the meanwhile, he had taught himself to play various instruments, including the piano, accordion and glockenspiel. He also wrote and sang ballads, which he performed with other musicians in the streets at weekends, while working as a forklift driver at a steel factory.
In 1974, Herzog was looking for someone to play Kaspar Hauser in a film based on the true story of the strange young man who appeared suddenly in the town square in early 19th-century Nuremberg, and who had had no contact with human beings since his childhood. By chance, Herzog happened to see a 1970 documentary which told the story of Bruno S, chronicling his experiences during the Nazi era, during which he was fortunate to escape being put to death, as he was considered "unfit" for society.
In a similar vein to François Truffaut's The Wild Child (1970) and David Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980), The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser shows the painful adaptive process of the social misfit to the norms of "civilised" behaviour. Kaspar, who becomes an attraction in high society, feels uneasy in the role, as he does in the dinner jacket he is forced to wear. There was an ironic parallel when Bruno S was lionised when he appeared with Herzog at the 1975 Cannes film festival, where the film won the grand jury prize.
Herzog wrote Stroszek for Bruno S, getting him to play an ex-con, former mental-institution patient and street musician, who, with his elderly neighbour and a prostitute, leave ►Germany because they can no longer find a "place". They emigrate to America, where they are equally unsuccessful.
According to the critic Roger Ebert: "Werner Herzog's films do not depend on 'acting' in the conventional sense. He is most content when he finds an actor who embodies the essence of a character, and he studies that essence with a fascinated intensity." This "essence" was extracted from Bruno with difficulty.
Bruno S, who most often referred to himself in the third person, said that "everybody threw him away" after the initial fame he gained from the Herzog films. However, he took up painting, with some of his work being exhibited in New York in 2002, and he continued to sing in nightclubs.
Bruno Schleinstein (Bruno S), actor, musician and artist, born 2 June 1932; died 11 August 2010
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BRUNO SCHLEINSTEIN: Actor, musician and outsider artist best known for his film collaborations with Werner Herzog
By John Riley | THE INDEPENDENT | London | Tuesday, 24 August 2010
Bruno Schleinstein or "Bruno S" was an outsider musician-artist-actor, best-known for his semi-autobiographical portrayals of Kaspar Hauser and Stroszek for Herzog, who described him as "the unknown soldier of German cinema". But his misfortunes led him to cast a baleful gaze over the world.
Schleinstein's prostitute mother beat him so severely that at the age of three he was left temporarily deaf. She dumped him in an asylum and he spent 23 years as a serial escapee and petty criminal, unvisited by siblings and subjected to Nazi experiments. Unexpectedly released, he worked in a Berlin steel mill, and at weekends busked his own and 19th-century popular songs and sold his naïve paintings. One showed a black-smocked doctor grasping his patient's heart.
In 1970 Schleinstein featured in Lutz Eisholz's documentary Bruno der Schwarze Es bleibt ein Jäger wohl in sein Horn. Werner Herzog saw it and knew that, despite having no acting experience, Schleinstein was perfect for the script he had completed a few days previously.
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (the original title of which was "Jeder für sich und Gott gegen Alle", or "Every Man for Himself and God Against All", 1974) was based on the true story on a young man who mysteriously arrived in Nuremberg in 1828. Having spent his whole life locked in a dungeon, he has no concept of the world, and the film follows his "integration" into society. However, his unusual outlook defeats those who would "civilise" him. A logic problem is deftly defeated with infallible child-like nonsense, while an apple apparently confirms Kaspar's view that it has a will of its own.
Wide-eyed and shock-haired, Schleinstein perfectly balanced the sense of wonder at a new world, and the acceptance of extraordinary events as "normal". He never removed his costume during the shoot, and his strange delivery is intensified by Herzog's insistence that he speak High German rather than his native Berlin dialect. Though it's hard to separate performance and reality, Herzog claimed Schleinstein was drawing on his own life he did a sketch of himself in the role, entitling it "When I Became Human I Had to Die".
The film won three prizes at Cannes and encouraged Herzog to consider more collaborations. They planned to film Büchner's Woyzeck, but at the last minute Herzog changed his mind and cast Klaus Kinski. As the deflated Schleinstein had already booked unpaid leave from the steel mill, Herzog postponed the film and wrote Stroszek (1977) for him in four days. In it, an alcoholic ex-prisoner ekes out a living as a busker. He befriends Eva, a prostitute, but her pimps beat them up. With a cranky elderly neighbour they leave for Wisconsin, where the film ends in enigmatic tragedy. It drew heavily on Schleinstein's own life: Stroszek shares his first name, it was shot in his apartment and he played the piano he had bought with his fee from Kaspar Hauser. He also improvised a long speech that recalled his own childhood.
But Schleinstein was hard to work with. He was suspicious of strangers and utterly convinced that his fee would be stolen through a set of convoluted plots. Before shooting a scene he might want to discuss his life or rant for a couple of hours, through which Herzog insisted that the crew pay full attention. But paradoxically he enjoyed semi-anonymity: the "Bruno S" name reflected that, as well as how newspapers had abbreviated his name when reporting his childhood crimes. After appearing in Eisholz's Liebe das Leben, lebe das Lieben (Love Living, Live Loving, 1977) he returned to his old life.
Setting himself up in Berlin's courtyards or his favourite pub, the Stadtklause, he never asked for money, but relied on spontaneous giving or for others to gather it on his behalf. Playing accordion with one hand and fumbling with a glockenspiel or a table full of hand-bells with the other, he sang his bleak songs, interrupting himself with spoken elaborations and bronchitic coughs. "Mamatschi", one of his favourites, tells of a child's desire for a horse being fulfilled by the arrival of his mother's hearse.
Sceptical, even embittered, in the documentary Vergangen, vergessen, vorüber ("Long Lost and Lay Me Down", 1994), he looked, without much hope, at the recently reunified Germany. In his chaotic flat on Berlin's whore-dotted Kurfürstenstrasse was a painting of Angela Merkel as the statue of liberty in the moon's crescent. He observed that adding a little moustache would make her give a Hitler salute.
Rising interest in outsider art brought more interest, exhibitions and sales. He released a CD and was the subject of the documentaries Der Fremde ist der Tod ("Estrangement is Death", 2003), based on his writings, and Seeing Things (2008), in which he experiments with a newly acquired laptop and scanner. Some felt that Herzog had used Schleinstein and then cast him aside. Speaking, as so often, in the third person, Schleinstein said "everyone threw him away". But he always insisted on doing things his own cussed way. In any case, he and Herzog eventually met and hugged in the Stadtklause.
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ACTEUR ALLEMAND BRUNO SCHLEINSTEIN
Par Jacques Mandelbaum | LE MONDE | Paris | 2010
1974 «L’Enigme de Kaspar Hauser», de Werner Herzog | 1977«La Ballade de Bruno», de Werner Herzog | 11 août 2010 Mort à Berlin | Un poète à la sensibilité brute faisant don de son corps au 7e art comme d’autres à la science: tel est le souvenirquelaissera l’acteurallemand Bruno Schleinstein, mort le 11août à Berlin d’une crise cardiaque, à l’âge de 78 ans.
Mais qui partagera ce souvenir? Bruno Schleinstein n’a pas eu au cinéma une carrière tellequele grandpublic, et plus particulièrement les jeunes générations, puissent aujourd’hui se rappeler cet homme étrange et attachant, qui passa dans le mondedu cinémacommeun météore. En tout cas, les familiers de l’oeuvre du réalisateur Werner Herzog, figure du nouveau cinéma allemand qui lui donna sa chance dans les années 1970, ne pourront, quant à eux, jamais l’oublier.
Bruno Schleinstein est né le 2juin 1932 à Berlin,enfantillégitimed’unemèreprostituée et d’un père inconnu. Enfance saccagée, maltraitée, violentée, passée pour grande partie dans des orphelinats et des institutions psychiatriques. Il en sort en 1955, pour mener une vie instable, faite de divers petits métiers.
Il cultive enmêmetempssongoût pour la musique et le dessin. Il chante dans les rues et les cours de Berlin, ballades traditionnelles ou compositions personnelles, s’accompagnant de son accordéon ou de son glockenspiel, dessinant des textes pour ses chansons.
Sa trajectoire finit par croiser celle de Werner Herzog, dont l’oeuvre témoigne d’une notoire prédilection pour les abymes de la folie, les personnages marginaux, le défi prométhéen à l’ordre social. Le cinéaste le remarque en 1970 dans un documentaire sur les musiciens de rue réalisé par Lutz Eisholz, Brunoder Schwarze, es blies ein Jäger wohl in sein Horn (« Bruno le noir, un chasseur soufflait dans sa corne»).
Le cinéaste pressent dans la souffrance, la rage et la tendresse inscrites à fleur de peau de ce bouleversant personnage un médium idéal pour son cinéma. Il ne se trompe pas.Bruno Schleinstein deviendra un bref mais incandescent compagnon de route, avant que Klaus Kinski ne le remplace dans le parcours de Werner Herzog. Moins médiatisée et spectaculaire, la relation entre Herzog et Schleinstein n’en efut pas moins intense, furieuse, épuisante.
Deux films magnifiques en marquent les jalons. L’Enigme de Kaspar Hauser d’abord, donc l’acteur tient le rôle principalen 1974, sous lenomde BrunoS.Al’instar de L’Enfant sauvage (1970), de François Truffaut, le film s’inspire d’un fait divers, qui vit au début du XIXe siècle un enfant privé de contact avec la société soudain renouer avec la civilisation dans la ville de Nuremberg. Le film remporte le Grand Prix du jury au Festival de Cannes en 1975.
Stroszek(LaBalladedeBruno, 1977),écrit en quatre jours par son réalisateur, est explicitement inspiré de la vie de l’acteur, évoquantledépartauxEtats-Unis,encompagnie d’un vieillard et d’une prostituée, d’un jeunehommesorti de l’asile, moralement et socialement épuisé par la société allemande.
En dépit de la reconnaissance que lui apportent ces rôles, Bruno Schleinstein, en vérité inassimilable par le milieu du cinéma, se consacre dès lors exclusivement à la musique et à la peinture. On le retrouvera tardivement dans quelques oeuvres du réalisateur et photographe engagé Jan Ralske, suffisamment confidentiellespourquecet anti-acteurdemeure, selon le mot de Werner Herzog, «le soldat inconnu du cinéma».